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Speaking the Unspeakable: Can Israel Survive?

By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- At a book party in New York last Wednesday night, a former newspaperman came up to a Washington Post columnist and said: "So, will there be an Israel in 2020?"

The columnist was Richard Cohen, who was getting holy Internet hell for writing a column, on July 18, that began: "The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. An honest mistake, well-intentioned ... creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims ..."

The point of Cohen's column, "Hunker Down With History," was that this was no time for Israel to try to use military power to regain control of territory it has already given up, the Gaza Strip and the buffer zone in southern Lebanon. It was pertinent analysis by a talented pro-Israel writer. But I'm sure that is not what is being blogged around. One e-mail I read said: "This is the first (current) case of a Jewish pundit desperately trying to feed Israeli Jews to the crocodile in the hope that he will be eaten last."

The man asking the question about 2020 was Peter Osnos, a former foreign correspondent and foreign editor of the Post, who has become an important publishing figure in New York. His tone was light, but he meant it.

"Nobody wants to talk about it, but nothing works anymore for Israel," Osnos said later. "The negotiated settlement narrative that began with Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel in 1977 has been shattered. You have to begin with the demographic facts. Even Israel will have a majority of Arabs within 15 years."

Osnos, who became a vice president of Random House and then founded his own publishing house, Public Affairs, writes his own column, focusing on media coverage of foreign affairs, distributed by the Century Foundation in New York. This is part of what he has written over the past month:

"What we must finally recognize is that the rage of the Middle East -- Arab and Jew, Sunni and Shiite, fundamentalist and pragmatist -- is intractable as other world conflicts are not. ... The historic and political case for Israel's place in the midst of a deeply volatile and insecure region where hundreds of millions are taught to despise it is no different now than it was at the time Israel was created in 1948. ...

"The optimistic view is that Arab pragmatists emboldened (and simultaneously intimidated) by their radical brethren's sense of victory may now be willing again to negotiate broader peace. The pessimists say that Israel is running out of time to secure long-term peace. ... Israel will mark its 60th anniversary in 2008. But it remains surrounded by countries and movements that at worst are sworn to its destruction and at best merely despise it. Nations are not immutable. The Soviet empire marked its 60th anniversary in 1977. Fourteen years later, it was gone, a parenthesis of time in Russian history. ...

"Much of the Western world seems no longer to believe, more than a half-century removed from the Holocaust in Europe, that civilization owes the Jews a homeland anymore. ... The image of Israel has gradually been corroded by the consequences of 40 years of occupation on the West Bank and Gaza. The country is a vibrant democracy with a deeply imbeddded dream of peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. Yet when security and dominance of its borders are at stake, Israel suspends the pleasantries. The image of Israel in the rest of the world focuses on that ferocity."

The bottom line is that, sadly, the survival of Israel depends not on its own valor and might or justice of cause, but on the friendship and support of one friend, the United States. And its friend has made all of these things worse by invading Iraq, spreading ever more chaos and hatred throughout the Muslim world.

Ironically, some of the American planners thought our weapons of shock and awe would make Israel more secure. In fact, our quick-strike aggression has done the opposite, and in many ways. As Osnos pointed out, Israel is richer and stronger, but in terms of security it is no better off than it was in 1948.

Copyright 2006 Universal Press Syndicate


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